Sixteen-year-old student Maverick Couch is staging a legal battle against a decision made by his school that bans him from wearing a gay pride t-shirt. The student, who lives in Ohio, is one of the few openly gay students at Waynesville high school. In April 2011 the principal Randy Gebhardt banned Couch from wearing his shirt, which features the Christian “sign of the fish”, coloured in with a rainbow, and the statement ‘Jesus Is Not a Homophobe ‘.
Couch wore the t-shirt whilst observing National Day of Silence, an annual event where individuals across the United States take a vow of silence, in order to draw attention to the silencing effect of homophobia in institutions.
Initially Couch received support: ‘some people I don’t even talk to a daily basis came up to me and said, “it’s really cool you wearing that shirt”’. Later that day, Principle Gebhardt called Couch to his office , asking him to remove the shirt because ‘religion and state have to be separate’. Gebhardt demanded that Couch wear the T-shirt inside out for the rest of the day, threatening to suspend him if he wore it to school again.
Couch repeatedly requested the right to wear his t-shirt, but the school board refused to budge. Eventually he telephoned Lambda Legal, a non-profit organization that aims to advance LGBT Civil Rights, to ask for support.
On January 24th 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to the school, however the board continued to refuse to change
its position. On April 3rd, Lambda Legal officially filled against Wayne Local School District. Their grounds are that the school’s decision is in violation of couch’s First Amendment right, to freedom of expression, as well as his Fourteenth Amendment right, to equal protection.
The school board has given Maverick permission to wear his t-shirt for this year’s National Day of Silence, while the case continues. Christopher Clark, a senior attorney for lambda legal, has stated that, although he is glad that couch is able to wear his t-shirt for the event, ‘we will continue to fight until Maverick is allowed to express who he is on any day he chooses’.